About Hatay Museum
Hatay Museum in Antakya, Turkey, is a fascinating institution dedicated to the history of the famous ancient city of Antioch.
Antioch is now known as Antakya, in the province of Hatay, which borders on Syria. The ancient city was the capital of the historic Kingdom of Hatay, and, along with Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria, was one of the pre-eminent centres of the Roman Empire. Its history is fascinating, notably as an important conduit in the spread of Christianity – St. Peter and St. Paul both stayed in the city – but it also played host other notables of the day, such as Anthony and Cleopatra.
Founded by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, it was eventually conquered by the Romans in 64BC and became an important Roman city. At its peak, Antioch contained approximately 500,000 inhabitants. The city was an important centre for early Christianity, indeed, the name ‘Christianity’ itself is said to have originated in Antioch, from the local word ‘Cristianos.’ Both Saint Peter – who established a church in the city – and St. Paul, who preached there – were onetime residents. Although initially persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian, Christians in the city were able to flourish later under the rule of the Emperor Constantine.
The Persians conquered Antioch in the 6th century, but it was retaken by Emperor Justinian shortly after. Antioch fell into Arab hands in the 7th century, remaining there until the Byzantines captured the city circa AD 1000. Over the next centuries the city became a strategically important prize during the Crusades, was captured by the Mamluks and was eventually incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.
Hatay Museum itself – also known as the Antakya Archaeological Museum – was founded on the instruction of the French archaeologist Monsieur Prost, as a result of the successful excavations that had begun in 1932. The excavations had unearthed numerous beautiful artefacts, ancient art – in particular Roman mosaics – as well as historical documents, stretching as far back as the Palaeolithic Age. Antioch was conquered and re-conquered a number of times over the centuries, which explains the array of different artefacts in the museum. The magnificent collection is located across seven different rooms and two halls, and is ordered according the locations in which the artefacts were found.
Construction of Hatay Museum was completed in 1938, and is perhaps best known for housing a number of famous Roman mosaics, in particular the Megalopyschia (‘greatness of soul’) Hunt. This mosaic is an important historic discovery, as the border portrays a number of landmarks from Antioch and Daphne (where the mosaic was discovered) as well as daily activities of the time. The mosaics occupy the first four rooms, and depict mostly mythical scenes.
Other notable mosaics depict the Boat of Pysches, Narcissus and Echo, and although incomplete, perhaps one of the finest mosaics of the museum, Oceanus and Thetis. Artefacts can be found from the Hittite and Byzantine period, as well as beautifully crafted Assyrian and Roman statuettes. Unfortunately the vast majority of building structures from ancient Antioch no longer survive, which adds to the importance of the mosaics, as an historical record of the city.
Contributed by Chris Reid